Friday, November 1, 2013

October is Spookey Month: Swamp Thing fights male and female werewolves!

To end our month-long celebration of Halloween, horror comics and all-girl Japanese pop punkers Spookey, here are a couple of stories where Swamp Thing fights that old school monster favorite, the werewolf.  Male and female varieties.

The first one, Swamp Thing #4 (May 1973) is by Len Wein and  Bernie Wrightson.  They lean on the familiar Universal Studios style, setting their tale in the Scottish moors and within a creepy old mansion.  Their werewolf is the tragically cursed son of some very worried parents.  They're in luck when Matt Cable and Abby Arcane crashland their plane close to their ancestral home, but definitely unlucky in that Swamp Thing is also on board.  This means their plans to use Cable's blood to cure their boy of his lycanthropy (and give it to Cable; but isn't this what any concerned parents would do for their child?) is doomed from the start.

While the werewolf on the cover looks more like a satyr to me, inside the comic itself Wrightson uses heavy black silhouetting for its first appearance, which gives his beastie a very Frazetta-ian touch, almost amorphous in the night fog.  It's very reminiscent in its first appearance of Frank Frazetta's aptly-titled "Werewolf!" from Creepy #1 (1964).  Kind of impressionistic.  Shoot, why am I telling you all this when I can just shut my fool mouth and show you?  Here:

There is nothing not to like about this comic and its classical approach. 

But what a difference a decade makes!   We hear a lot of talk about the "curse of the werewolf," and writer Alan Moore and his merry art crew of Steve Bissette and John Totleben set out to explore what this means both literally and metaphorically-- because there's also this other monthly thing sometimes referred to as a curse.

In Swamp Thing #40 (September 1985), Brit Moore unspools an episode in "American Gothic," an extended story arc where Swamp Thing battles traditional horror creatures suffused darker elements of the United States' national narrative-- the unintended consequences of progress, the preponderance of gun violence, the genocide of Native Americans and the lingering effects of slavery and the Civil War.  This time, perennial fan favorite character John Constantine pits Swamp Thing against something more personal-- the perpetual state of war between the genders, specifically the daily battles waged by a typically American suburban couple.

As with the Len Wein-Bernie Wrightson werewolf tale, "The Curse" is very concerned with blood.  It's just Moore is interested in a deeper exploration of this sanguine symbolism.  Our werewolf this time is a modern woman so empathetic to the anger and resentment felt by long-ago Pennamaquot tribeswomen sequestered in a special lodge (she and her husband live in a house built on the site) while they menstruate she turns into a massive wolf creature and goes on a rampage.  Male privilege has finally loosed a beast, and after a brief fight, Swamp Thing comes to as much of an understanding of the woman's plight as a male-gendered plant elemental can.

Tragically, our tragic werewolf is a stand-in for all of womankind, so she learns there's another aspect to this blood curse-- women are bound by it to men and vice versa.  As a result, she cannot bring herself to kill her husband (even though she contemptuously notes he's "soiled himself" from fear).  Giving in completely to her primal, savage anger, she crashes through the front window of a pornography shop where a customer has just asked the cashier to show him something he euphemistically refers to as more "unusual."  Perhaps as a matter of tastefulness, we aren't permitted to see the resulting carnage.  In the end, Swamp Thing cannot offer succor and the werewolf impales herself on the knives in a supermarket display, ironically labeled, "Here's good news for housewives!"  The supermarket setting itself represents the sterilizing effect consumerism has on our lives and its place in the continuing subjugation of female power, having been referenced satirically in the same vein by Ira Levin's 1972 novel The Stepford Wives and its 1975 film adaptation.

And with our tale of two lycanthropes, we bring this year's Spookey Month to a close!

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